A human crisis with a simple solution

August 8, 2019

A human crisis including serious mental health issues, job losses, economic decline and the threat to livelihoods can be avoided if politicians would only intervene.

All it takes is acknowledging the crisis and allocating a parcel of water to NSW Murray irrigators, who continue to have a zero allocation for the second consecutive year.

They see the most likely saviour as their local member and federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, but are concerned nothing will be done to alleviate the present situation.

The issue is raising concerns for mental health advocates, Indigenous leaders, farmers and community groups.

They want to know why nothing is being done.

This second consecutive year of zero water allocation could lead to closure of the Deniliquin Rice Mill which has already seen the loss of about 100 jobs, with a significant flow-on effect to the local business community. There are fears more rice mill jobs will soon go, on the back of another very low crop.

Local dairy and cropping farmers have walked away from their land in despair, unable to continue operating with no allocated water and the massive price of temporary water.

And their frustration at the refusal of the Federal Government to acknowledge their situation and offer some help is at fever pitch levels.

Lachlan Marshall is a dairy farmer who says he is “hanging on by the skin of his teeth”, but does not know how much longer he can keep the farm operating.

“Numerous dairy farms across southern New South Wales and northern Victoria have closed, and there are more to come. I cannot afford to pay over $600 a megalitre for much longer.

“What is our nation going to do when we cannot produce enough milk for our population? That’s where we are heading,” he said.

Governments have acknowledged the mental health problems in the region and are funding various forums and activities to address the issue.

But unfortunately they have not addressed the cause of the mental health, being the zero water allocation which is placing so much stress on the farming community.

Deniliquin Mental Health Awareness Group chair Julie Mullins said: “We are getting more and more stories about the mental health problems being caused by lack of water.

“Running forums is a positive step and is something we encourage, however it would be best if we fixed the problem instead of applying a band-aid.

“If this means providing a parcel of water to take the stress away from farming families and other local people who rely on their income, surely that’s what we should be doing.”

David Crew is manager of the Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre and sees the impact of zero water allocation.

“The rice mill is an important employer for Indigenous communities, so we would like to see it operating. But whenever there is pressure on job opportunities, like we have at the moment, our community is affected.

“The Indigenous community already has an unemployment level of 20 per cent compared to four per cent for the rest of the community. All levels of government need to work with the community to create more opportunities to increase the economic life of our local families,” Mr Crew said.

Mr Marshall, who is also deputy chair of the community-based Speak Up Campaign, said the refusal thus far of the Federal Government to help the region was difficult to accept.

“We thought when our local member, Sussan Ley, was re-elected and then given the environment portfolio she may take a stronger stand to protect her constituents. But all we see is a Water Minister (David Littleproud) refusing to accept the Basin Plan is a failure, and his fellow Ministers not being prepared to call him out.

“We also know that if Ms Ley allocates a parcel of water to save people in her region, it will be met with criticism from some quarters. Surely copping a bit of flak is worth it, when the future of human beings is on the line.

“This is a human crisis in every sense of the term. It should be acknowledged as such and immediate action taken to fix it,” Mr Marshall said.

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